Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Reforesting the Philippines: The commencement of our conservation and reconnecting journey


“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and one another.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Mharfel Milanes was one of the Smartmatic’s team leaders in an unusual but memorable teambuilding activity of our colleagues in the Philippines. They had the opportunity to join the Haribon Foundation and plant 200 seedlings; while also reconnecting with nature, making a lasting contribution to Sierra Madre’s sustainability, and enjoy a fun trekking day with stunning views of Rizal, Laguna (100 km south of Manila.)

The idea consolidated after Mharfel started researching potential teambuilding activities for the staff. “It occurred to me to do something for the environment. Given that during the elections project there were millions of paper ballots printed, I thought it would be perfect to pay back to nature.” However, Mharfel’s environmental consciousness was just the first step that ignited a significative response from the team.

18 people attended the event (70% of total EEs in the Philippines), even though it meant jumping very early from the comfort of their beds. The assembling time on Reforestation Day was 4:30 am since the venue was outside Manila.

Nevertheless, Mharfel and other participants assure us that it was worthy, as the activities flowed smoothly during the whole day. “We received an overview of the natural reserve venue chosen for the activity, and the representatives of the Foundation taught us how to do the seedling plantation. We then formed four groups, each one with a leader to support and guide his/her team. After completing ‘the mission,’ we celebrated by climbing to the top of the mountain. We truly enjoyed the beautiful views of the forest and lakes around the area.”


Our partner for this activity -the Haribon Foundation- has been implementing for several years a conservation project in the Sierra Madre, the longest mountain range in the Philippines. According to Birdlife.org “the Sierra Madre supports one of the largest remaining forest blocks and one of the richest wildlife communities known from any forest area in the country. Aside from its rich biodiversity, it also serves as a water catchment for the major urban center of the Philippines – Metro Manila.”

The occasion allowed the Smartmatic volunteers to do much more than planting trees. It provided an unique opportunity to practice solidarity, physical exercise and reconnect with people and the landscape. For Mharfel, the top three highlights of the event were: contributing to the preservation of the ecosystem in the area, working together as a team to achieve one common goal, and creating awareness of the damage done to the environment.

It was the first event of such nature for the Philippines team. However, a seed of commitment for conservation and reforestation initiatives was sown in the volunteers. They learned and shared not only the Haribon Foundation values, but they also reflected upon what actions can we do at a personal level to promote reforestation and preserve the environment.

We cannot wait to hear about similar events in the future!

About Haribon Foundation

The Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, Inc. is a membership organization committed to nature conservation through community empowerment and scientific excellence. Hatched in 1972, it is the pioneer environmental organization in the Philippines. It’s natural and social scientists work with communities and people from all levels governance to promote biodiversity conservation. It is the current convenor of the Rainforest Restoration Initiative (RFRI), a network of 14 national and international organizations that promotes rainforestation. These groups have collectively restored 22,000 hectares of forest cover throughout the country since 2005. The RFRI has conducted hundreds of tree-planting activities in provinces, such as Rizal, Quezon, Zambales, Laguna, and Surigao del Sur.